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Have we actually learned anything from the James Webb Space Telescope?

Updated Oct 13th, 2022 5:23PM EDT
James Webb telescope
Image: Vadimsadovski / Adobe

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The James Webb Space Telescope is one of the most ambitious endeavors of space exploration. Since NASA shared Webb’s first images in July, we’ve seen plenty of other images coming out of the telescope. Despite all of those beautiful images, some people can’t help but ask if we’ve actually experienced any James Webb breakthroughs yet. The short answer? No, not quite yet.

But, it isn’t bad that James Webb’s breakthroughs haven’t told us much yet. That’s because, as the ESA and NASA shared in a breakdown of Webb’s scientific method, Webb’s work actually takes some time. Not only do scientists have to observe the targets of their operations, but then they have to look through James Webb’s data to figure out what it all means.

From there, all of that data has to be peer-reviewed, too. That means that other scientists look at any breakthroughs James Webb has discovered and verify that they are sharing true — or at least what we believe to be true — information based on current models. There are some concerns over the current models we’re using, and we could misinterpret Webb data, but that’s another issue entirely.

James Webb photo of Mars
James Webb’s observations of Mars confirmed discoveries spacecraft have previously observed. Image source: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Mars JWST/GTO team

Of course, this doesn’t mean that Webb’s breakthroughs haven’t taught us anything. As I’ve noted before, those first images of the early universe confirmed that we were wrong about the early universe. Many theorized that the early universe was more chaotic and less organized. However, Webb’s observations of older galaxies seem to prove that wasn’t the case at all.

Additionally, Webb has also detected carbon dioxide on an exoplanet, confirming that this critical component does exist outside of our Solar System. So, while there doesn’t appear to be a lot of big information coming out of Webb’s breakthroughs, it has taught us something – and there is even more expected to come in the future.

Webb’s scientific mission isn’t a short one, and these images are just a start. Gathering data and creating images from said data is much easier than interpreting that data to understand the universe. And, even when James Webb’s breakthroughs start happening, it’s still going to take us years to understand what we’re looking at fully.

Related coverage: See our ultimate guide to the James Webb telescope.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.